From an aesthetic standpoint, architecture is like a 3D painting protruding from a plot of land

It never ceases to amaze me how people can throw themselves into discussions regarding the 73 x 60 cm painting canvases of Vincent van Gogh and Picasso and seem to ignore the “bigger canvas,” the daily paintings in the sky.

In his famous “The Starry Night” painting, Gogh himself stressed those patterns, perhaps to underscore the mystery of the divine, the overseen power of what humanity has reduced to the simple term; sky.


Sky canvases - Images: No attribution required


Sky canvases - Images: No attribution required


Sky canvases - Images: No attribution required


The Starry Night, an oil-on-canvas painting by Vincent van Gogh - Image: No attribution required

Though, as we descend to the ground, the home of boundaries, all we can see is gray matter: gray forms, streets, and poles. And we hope for once to witness a sort of manufactured form that could push us into a transcendent state the same way the sky does.


As we descend to the ground, the home of boundaries, all we see is gray matter - Image: No attribution required

Surrounded by the sky, all we can find is architecture, which is why this particular display is significant. With all of their abundance, buildings have absolute power over the designed environment. Transcendence and grandeur through natural forms -like the sky- and manufactured forms -like architecture- matter because their magnetism pulls us out of the dull fabric that perpetuates in our daily lives.

From an aesthetic standpoint, architecture is like a 3D painting protruding from a plot of land. The visual voyage begins with the landscape until it meets the first rectangular wall that pierces into it and proceeds from there to leave an impression on the ground and us. Forms are then added and subtracted to create openings and escapes, leaving us with a monument that nudges our emotions once it intersects with our field of vision.

The interconnectivity between architecture and psychology is not to be undermined. Once objects begin to exist, they start to influence our consciousness. We create forms, and forms recreate us back in return, and the loop continues. That is why terms like “human-centered design” and “human-centered interaction” propagate today, because the human awareness of the inevitable influence of physical patterns on psychological advancement is expanding.

Buildings trigger our emotional responses. Imagine a time when you passed by a marvelous urban artifact. It probably stole your focus, diverted your attention, possibly even raised your eyebrow, or planted a smile on your face. It could have been a green wall hijacking a house, an organic arrangement that made you wonder, or a building of massive scale that instigated awe. When one witnesses superb works, one can’t help but pause and marvel at the genius in the human capacity to creatively imagine. Such outstanding results overwhelm the human consciousness with their proportion, scale, sophistication, and implausible feats of engineering.


The fascinating interior of “La Sagrada Familia” in Barcelona, Spain - Image: No attribution required


The massive scale of “Altar of the Fatherland” monument in Rome, Italy - Image: No attribution required


The engineering competence of Audi Forum in the Omotesando area of Tokyo, Japan - Image: No attribution required

But forms don’t have to be complex to leave a stamp on our minds. Perhaps sometimes, it is even harder to create a simple yet alluring form. Chapel on the Water is a tiny chapel in Hokkaido, Japan, which was designed to elegantly melt the borders between the exterior and the interior while capturing the beauty of natural elements: water, light, wind, and greenery (or snow at times). The architecture is a simple concrete box. Though, the way the design was directed was highly exquisite. Whether intended or not, visitors from inside the chapel feel as if they’re on a ship sailing on the water, towards the cross planted in the middle of the water element and exposed to the sky. Tadao Ando realized that the audience must earn a scenery that inspires a contemplative state. Rather than dumping sums of capital on intricate monuments and artificial luxuries, Ando laid down the minimal cross outside the building and took advantage of the spectacular –and free- natural context as a fourth wall.


Chapel on the Water project designed by Tadao Ando in Hokkaido, Japan - Image: No attribution required

Instead of trees being planted around houses, for instance, one could consider how houses could be built around existing trees to accentuate the biophilic human tendency to live in connection with nature. For example, “The Tea House” project in Shanghai welcomes a mature tree into the house’s balcony. Another project, named “Tree in the House” in Kazakhstan, fuses into a forest of fir trees and invites one of those full-grown trees into an internal court to dominate the four-floor circular and transparent building.

Many of Singapore’s buildings are created as if painted with a green brush. Nanyang Technological University’s school of art, design, and media gorgeously resembles a scarf made by nature, where people can climb up its green roof right away as if they’re hiking on a hill.


Nanyang Technological University’s school of art, design, and media in Singapore - Image: No attribution required

Architecture can have a magnetic effect on people, leaving imprints that spring a feeling of transcendence. Whether buildings are complex, made to impress, or simple and made to –naturally– mingle, designers ought to be wary that the monuments they develop –like the frequently neglected skies– can leave traces of human emotions!